A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Castaway Cowboy is a 1974 Disney Western that's set in Hawaii. Kids may enjoy watching grownups learn the difficult skills of roping and herding, much of it featuring acrobatic stunt work. A young boy takes to the stranger found nearly dead in the surf. After the boy and his mother rescue the man, the man proceeds to rescue the family farm. Grit and determination are on display here, and the only quitting time is when it gets too dark or the dinner bell rings. Villains cause a deliberate stampede that threatens buildings and people and could end Henrietta's fledgling cattle business. A witch doctor throws spears at someone he doesn't like. He casts a spell on workers and one falls ill until the spell is reversed. Punches are thrown. Cattle are dragged out to sea one by one for shipping to California.
What's the story?
In THE CASTAWAY COWBOY, a man washes up on the 1850s Hawaiian island of Kauai. He's fished out of the sea and nursed to health by Henrietta McAvoy (Vera Miles) and her young son Booton (Eric Shea). She's the widowed owner of a 10,000-acre failing potato farm. The stranger, Lincoln Costain (James Garner, from TV's Maverick, and The Rockford Files), is a Texan who somehow got booted off or jumped from a large clipper ship over a dispute -- he claims he was kidnapped and put to work against his will. When a large bull starts eating Henrietta's vegetable garden, Costain shows his expertise with cattle and suggests ranching would be a far more lucrative business than potatoes. Although Costain threatens to head back to Texas, he stays to teach her band of laid-back workers to ride horses, rope cattle, and round them up, a long process that at times seems hopeless. In town, a perfumed wealthy businessman named Bryson (Robert Culp) has loaned Henrietta money as she struggles, in the hope of marrying her, though she's made it clear she's not interested. Bryson tries to sabotage the cattle scheme to keep Henrietta beholden to him. He pays a witch doctor to cause illnesses, then sends a henchman to cause a stampede. Neither works, but Bryson's scheming meets with justice, while Costain looks like he's going to stay.
Is it any good?
This is an entertaining story that gets its biggest boost from the charisma and star power of James Garner as the confident Costain. With a nod to the movie Shane (that also featured an impressionable young boy and the mysterious stranger who comes to help), The Castaway Cowboy may attract kids who can relate to young Booton. The boy instantly idolizes the stranger and sizes him up as new husband material for his widowed mother.
The movie also spends more time on the trade craft and ins and outs of cattle herding than the average Western. The fact that Hawaiian vistas provide a beautiful backdrop doesn't hurt, either. And when Costain teaches his crew to sing "Come a Ki-yi Yippy Yippy Yay," it seems the education of the locals is complete. Note that the process of swimming bulls through the sea to load them onto a waiting cargo ship may seem insensitive to animal welfare.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about what it means to work hard. What does Costain demand of everyone who works for him? Do you think the workers learn about hard work because he's a good teacher or because he sets the example by working hard himself?
Why do you think Booton likes Costain right away in The Castaway Cowboy? What do you think he admires?
Have you ever had to learn to do something new and difficult? What made it so hard? How did you overcome the challenge?
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